Political parties dominate political discourse in Canada both during and between elections. While the bulk of the attention in the run up to the 2013 BC provincial election has focused on the two parties realistically contending for Government (the BC Liberals and the NDP) and the two minor parties (the Conservatives and the Greens) that participated in the radio and televised debates, many more parties run candidates and engage in local candidate forums.
In fact, BC has 26 registered political parties (Elections BC). Some, for example, the Marijuana and Work Less parties, are dedicated to individual causes while others, for example, the Christian Heritage Party, the Libertarian Party, the Unparty: the Consensus Building Party, and the Communist Party, identify with ideologies or perspectives that simply do not find substantial visible voice or representation within the major parties. Few minor players ultimately run candidates and those that do mount a small slate. Both the Excalibur and Libertarian parties, for example, have six nominated candidates, two of whom are women. The Marijuana Party, the Workless Party and the Christian Heritage Party each are fielding men in two ridings while the Communist is breaking even with two of each gender. Founded by a husband-wife team, Mark and Chanel Donavan, the Unparty aims to increase democracy in and between elections. They are candidates in Richmond Stevenston and Richmond Centre respectively. One of the two parties running a full female team (albeit of two candidates) has been accused of serving more as a tax haven than a political party (BC Iconolost). Reporting millions in assets, the Advocational Party has mounted candidates for the first time since 2005. Both are running far outside BC’s metropolitan centres: Beverly Bird in Nechako Lakes and Johanna Zalsik in Shuswap. Neither has done much campaigning. The party’s founder, Vernon physician Andrew Hokhold offered an at best half-hearted endorsement. While he no longer has time to manage his political creation, he counts Beverly Bird a great successor because the party is served best by a “passive observer, and she’s a passive observer” (in Global News interview).
While parties are a dominant force in British Columbia politics, and have been generally in the parliamentary tradition since the mid-19th century, many individuals run as independents or unaffiliated. In 2013 there are 42 such candidates in 37 ridings. Of these, only 19% (8) are women. The proportion of women among independents is lower than that in three of the four major parties (only the BC Conservatives have fewer). Specific reasons remain unclear, but barriers likely resemble those facing women in mainstream politics. In addition, however, women are on average less well-placed in terms of income or wealth to run independent campaigns. The so-called ‘women’s parties’ that emerged soon after enfranchisement typically suffered from lack of sufficient personal and institutional resources (Paxton 145-6).
While independents are rarely successful in British Columbia’s first past the post electoral system, several are considered serious contenders in 2013 – -Vicki Huntington in Delta South (who won as an independent in the 2009 general election), Bob Simpson in Cariboo North (originally elected as an NDP MLA before resigning to sit as an independent), and Jon Van Dongen (originally elected as a BC Liberal before his removal from cabinet, shift to the Conservatives, and then resignation from the party to become an Independent).
What role minor parties and independents will play in the election remains to be seen, but their influence has been historically minimal. They are fielding few candidates and proportionately few are women. Not surprisingly, their policies offer as well no special inducement to female voters. While Vicki Huntington might buck the electoral trend, independents are not a force to be reckoned with when it comes to women in provincial politics on the west coast.
Elections BC – Registered Political Parties Information. http://www.elections.bc.ca/docs/fin/Registered-Political-Parties-Information.pdf
Elections BC – Information on the Election and Candidates
Paxton,Pamela. Women, Politics, and Power: Global Perspectives (Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press, 2007).